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Time Management for System Administrators

Thomas A Limoncelli
Published by O'Reilly Media
226 pages
£ 17.50
Published: December 9, 2005
reviewed by Lindsay Marshall and Alain Williams
   in the June 2006 issue (pdf), (html)

Lindsay Marshall's review

Save time, don't bother reading this book. Or the review. But since you are still here, let me expand on my reasons for saying this. The book is well written, the advice in it is sound and well known to work. There are even some ideas specific to system administrators that are pretty good (though there are also some that will put you to sleep: using aliases in the shell for instance) The big problem is that there are hundreds of books on time management that cover exactly the same ground and recommend the same solutions, most of them cheaper and prettier than this one. Just not as geek oriented.

At the very end of the book the author even suggest that you read some ``traditional'' time management, and, inevitably, recommends David Allen's Getting Things Done -- the Internet's favourite time management guru and his book. You really would be better of reading GTD first, then have a quick trawl round some of the GTD websites, pick up some tips and apply them to your own situation. System Administration is just not that different from any other job. (Avoid subscribing to the GTD cult though -- some people are scarcely obsessed with the whole thing)

And if you can't be bothered, go on with leaving things to the last minute, and try my hot tip: if it's really important, someone will get back to you about the things you haven't got round to doing yet.

Alain Williams' review

A system administrator is typically someone who attempts to do project work while being interrupted by users or customers. If you are not careful you end up spending all your time dealing with the interrupts and never getting anything done; I find this an easy state to get into.

The chapters contain nice summaries that I have been using to try to put into practise before reading the next one, some are much easier than others, some I was already doing. The sort of advice is: prioritise, what must be done now, what can wait; let users know what you are doing and when you will fulfil their request; get users agreement with your timescales; help users to help themselves; automate common tasks.

He will also get you to think about what you do best and when you work best (I am not a morning person). Schedule your work to take advantage of that. How you can organise the windows in your virtual window manager to best effect. How you can organise your team so that you all get some work done. How you can record the tasks that you have to do - if you record it you use less brain power trying to remember the jobs that you have to do today.

Email: how many hours a day do you waste reading it and how many are just sitting in your in-box waiting to be processed? I thought so. This is one chapter that I am going to have to reread, and then again to try to get it right. Yes: I am an ineffective email junkie.

Stress hinders productive work. How to cope with stress, how to avoid it, how to get the best from holidays (leave the laptop at home). If you are stressed what can you do (e.g. try yoga). My complaint about this chapter is that it didn't advise on how to cope with an ex-wife.

A part of organising your work time is also organising your leisure time, your life goals. Yes: many people just life from day to day, year to year and never get where they want because they don't steer themselves.

I liked this book, easy to read and contains good advice. I have fallen asleep reading other time management material, this one kept me awake.

I am reading a chapter a week and have not reached the end yet; if I had I might have sent this review in by the newsletter copy date.

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